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Gamer's Cartridge : Temporarily (?) Out of Stock

Written by cafealpha 2 comments
 TL;DR : Gamer's Cartridge are no longer available. It's not an end of the project but if back for sale, it will likely to be in limited quantity.



This is to announce that Gamer's Cartridge are out of stock for an undefined period of time.
That may look sudden, but I was scheduling this transition for around one year ... and kept it confidential until now to avoid an eventual rush of orders, or people purchasing my cartridges just for stocking "in case of" or for speculation without actually playing with their Saturn.



The reason(s) why

Why are Gamer's Cartridge out of stock ? First, this is for the simple reason that I don't have any Action Replay shell for assembling new carts : my friend who supplied shells stopped provisioning from wholesale supplier around one year ago.
So I bought all the remaining stock from that friend, and that stock kept me busy this year in manufacturing and selling last batches Gamer's Cartridge.

Now that my Action shells storage facility (which is maybe a bit pedantic term to speak about a couple of shoes box ) is empty and that I found the time and motivation to write this article, it's time to officially put Gamer's Cartridge project on pause.
That pause may be temporary or the last one ... I honestly don't know how the project will evolve, but what's sure is that it won't be available back in short term and in the case it shall become available back, this will be in limited quantities.


Another reason for Gamer's Cartridge being out of stock is the decline of public interest toward it : back on initial release in 2016, Gamer's Cartridge was relatively popular because its unique "virtual" memory cartridge feature. At that time, Action Replay flashed with Pseudo Saturn Kai was a standard to play Saturn games but unfortunately this solution didn't featured cartridge backup memory, so that Gamer's Cartridge was here to fill this gap.
But I clearly felt the recent rise of "all-in-one" red cartridges because time until each Gamer's Cartridge batch is sold became longer by longer from the beginning of this year, from "few hours" in 2016, it became "several days" recently


As of Gamer's Cartridge main developer and manufacturer my opinion is a bit biased, but I consider Gamer's Cartridge a better solution than the red cart because backup memory capacity is larger, access to Saturn floppy disk device is emulated, and also because save data contents can be easily backed up to modern media.
But on the other hand, as expansion 1MB/4MB RAM isn't available and that Gamer's Cartridge are hand made by one dude during its free time, maybe customers were more in confidence in the red cart because it mass produced, or a bit cheaper, or more convenient because it's "all-in-one". Who knows.


Also, the approaching public release of Satisfier project will certainly make possible the backup of cartridge memory contents to SD card, also provide the ability to dump Saturn BIOS there too. This overlaps few of the few remaining "Gamer's Cartridge exclusive" features.

Last remaining "sales point" of Gamer's Cartridge is to offer a *reliable* in-game save data support : all the other backup memory cartridges (including Sega official ones !) are prone to corrupt save data when not correctly inserted.
This was improved with Gamer's Cartridge, which shows an error message on startup (without botching any user data) if not correctly inserted. If Pseudo Saturn Kai boots then save data are saved in a reliable way
But as typical user don't care about data reliability, there soon will be no more room left for Gamer's Cartridge in the portfolio of retro gaming devices for Saturn.


Whatever it may be, it's stupid to continue Gamer's Cartridge manufacturing if I struggle to sell theses. Maybe aggressive marketing or promoting my projects here and there on social media would had made a difference, but that's clearly not the path I want for my projects : I don't do that for a living and don't want to influence potential customers just to increase my pocket momey.
If it interests someone then that's cool, but on the other case I won't force anybody to buy my homemade stuff and rather shall temporarily close the store and go on other projects.


Cartridges order page, before status being set to "out of stock"




Life-prolonging treatments for Gamer's Cartridge ?

There are some solutions to continue Gamer's Cartridge manufacturing a bit, but as the "life-prolonging" title suggest, theses are flawed and/or limited and I will explain you why.

Supplying shells from another source ?
That may be a viable solution, but honestly I didn't examined it in depth : that's a significant amount of time to ask several places about my project, my needs, etc etc ... without any guarantee to get something at the end.
Well, I may think about this solution someday but right now I prefer to dedicate my free time to projects other than writing tons of emails

Supplying shells from wholesale manufacturer such as EMS ?
Big manufacturer have the advantage to (usually) be stable on the long term and to offer broken prices ... but the advantages stop here.
On the other side it requires a commitment on my side to buy in large quantities, hence to manufacture Gamer's Cartridge in large quantities, and finally to sell in large quantities.

This "large quantity" point is clearly not what I want for my project : for me, Saturn is just an hobby which I don't want to be a source of stress (what should I do with remaining stock of unsold carts, electronic parts and shells if by example Gamer's Cartridge would be "3rd party copied" and that all customers prefer to purchase that because it's $20 cheaper ?), and I consider this was a wise choice to do such kind "limited manufacturing" because at some point Gamer's Cartridge lost interest from public.
To give an idea of magnitude between my projects and mass produced ones, unit used for mass-produced things is probably (I don't know in details) around "large cardboard", or "palette". On my side, the until is "shoes box"

Cartridges without shells ?
That's a big no : if that's to then hear that the quality of my carts is shabby I prefer to leave here on a good impression.
Additionally, if that's to also hear that because of the lack of shell my cartridges have to be put on discount that's another NO too. Prices of my carts are decided after a long work of research and introspection () so I don't want to hear any kind of price reduction after that. If you want a cheap cartridge, the red "all-in-one" cart is all for you.

Providing shell from customer' space Action Replay ?
No thanks. I have better things to do than waiting for your spare Action Replay, to mount a Gamer's Cartride inside (which includes to drill and cut the shell etc) and then stick your favorite label on it
As indicated above, ideal quantity for my cartridge projects is "shoes box" : I prepare a batch of cartridges from a shoes box of parts to another shoes box of "ready to sell" carts. Doing individual manufacturing for only one user just fulfills the personal interest of that user but except that it completely counter-productive ...

Open Source ?
That's completely NO : open sourcing Gamer's Cartridge project would yield around $20 price cut on user side. On my side, it would yield to the disappearing of pocket money to challenge in more complex projects.

I don't have anything against open source, but I'm completely against the ones that beg open sourcing just for their personal own interest, i.e. saving more or less 20 bucks in the case of Gamer's Cartridge.
Maybe that's quick money saved for them, but on the other hand that's also innovation in new Saturn projects being destroyed : I certainly wouldn't had pushed Pseudo Saturn Kai development so far (for example around cheat codes and Rhea/Phoebe disc image selection support) if in the meanwhile of the development 3rd party manufacturers would had made profits from my hardware projects.

DIY Kit ?
That's more or less same as open source solution : it's just a simplistic solution to satisfy one's personal interest.
Additionally, it's a source of troubles in the case that DIY Gamer's Cartridge doesn't works : is it caused by electronic parts (= my responsibility) or soldering and assembly (= user's responsibility) ? In the case of "one man show project" as I'm doing, everything is simpler because I'm responsible of everything when a problem happens

3D Printed Shells ?
It's an interesting solution, but this requires to use a completely new manufacturing process for me, with all the related matters (verifying solidity, tweaking shape, selecting appropriate color and base materials etc) ... and all the unexpected problems too : from my own experience, there are high chances of being stuck into unexpected problems when challenging in something new

To give an idea of my apprehension regarding 3D printed shells, let's take a look on Pyra portable laptop development : project started several years ago and now electronic and firmware/OS side of the project seems stable. It's however not released yet because of ... unexpected problems regarding shell manufacturing.
That's not a critic about Pyra project (in fact, I'm following it with admiration), but just an example to detail how bad development can be delayed when you're trying new process or new project.

And for theses reasons above (of extra design, tweaks and risks) as well as in regard of the limited public interest into Gamer's Cartridge this is probably not a good way to do. This would however make sense on a new hardware project.

BTW, I do have some spare 3D shells, but at theses were a generous present to me from their creator theses are not for sale and consequently it's not worth asking if I could sell a Gamer's Cartridge with theses shells.

Official memory cartridge shells ?
Very first Gamer's Cartridge assembled back in 2016 were using shells from official memory cartridge, so this is a good "B-plan solution" to continue manufacturing of Gamer's Cartridge. And on the good side, gathering some used memory cartridges would be the occasion to dump and share the saves eventually left by previous users on theses cartridges

This however needs some tuning on PCB, because status LEDs of theses very first Gamer's Cartridges are currently positioned in the area reserved for cartridge label.

And unlike 3D printed shells, the solidity and other mechanic small details around those official memory cartridge shells should not be a problem, but overall state may be a bit questionable : upper half of the cartridge may be yellow, previous label may be a mess to remove etc. I personally don't care such kind of "retro Gamer's Cartridges" might look not "pristine as new", because as the project name suggests I want my cartridges to be used for playing rather than collecting, but I'm concerned if cartridges don't sell well ... let's wait and see if that's a reasonable solution or not.



Regrets about Gamer's Cartridge

This kind of farewell article traditionally features a "this point should had be done better etc", but I don't have any regrets around Gamer's Cartridge development !!!
When releasing Gamer's Cartridge, I thought the project would last for half a year and then be cloned or overtaken by a more competitive (widely available/more features/cheaper : maximum two choices possible), but this project actually lasted for more than three years
This was an occasion to meet many people who then became good friends (more details in the "Thanks" sections below) and/or gave extensive help around Pseudo Saturn Kai development. Without them, the limits Pseudo Saturn Kai wouldn't had been pushed that far

This wasn't an occasion for me to become rich, and this was as expected ! Making big cash from retro gaming project requires mass production, which I'm not interested in because for me, Gamer's Cartridge was just a toy and the activity to develop and manufacture theses was just an hobby.
I don't think it's good to go over that toy/hobby limit, because if an hobby becomes a business, it's no longer an hobby

This wasn't an occasion to become famous too : I wasn't approached by famous personalities from social networks about Gamer's Cartridge (nor about Pseudo Saturn Kai too), but everything is well like that as rather than hype I simply want to contribute to a better public interest on homebrew development and Saturn in general.



Testimonies

Many project proudly show feedback from their happy customers, and now it's time to announce stock and production shortage, I realize something similar wasn't available for Gamer's Cartridge !
"All-in-one" cartridge customer feedbacks

As listing feedback from hapy customers is too mainstrean, let's show feedback from users who didn't purchased Gamer's Cartridge

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
(After explaining over several emails that Gamer's Cartridge isn't an EverDrive and giving links to Saturn ODE project in the case this fits better potential customer's needs)
"Thanks for your time"
→ You're welcome, and thank you for teaching me this expression to decline something in a clever manner  It will now take a place of choice in my library of useful English expressions.


- - - - - - - - - - - - -
(After detailing about Gamer's Cartridge features and disclaimer)
"I see. I bought an USB Data Link instead."
→ Well, that's better than not replying to my email after ordering a cartridge : at least I don't need to reserve this cartridge during several days for nothing


- - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Will you release DIY kits ?"
→ NO! PCBs are publicly available, and appropriate MAX3000A CPLD can be found on ebay so that you can assemble everything by yourself.
CPLD firmware isn't available, but please have fun in re-implementing Gamer's Cartridge logic inside. I learned VHDL like that.


(Note : feedbacks displayed above are the result of several individual feedbacks mixed together, so that general trend about Gamer's Cartridge is discribed, and anonymity of their authors is preserved)



Thanks

(In alphabetical order, so that nobody won't claim because they are upper or lower than someone else)
 - antime, for USB dev cart development, which was used as basis for Gamer's Cartridge
 - Baraka, for the fancy Dezaemon 2 themed labels for Gamer's Cartridge
 - Darius, for providing my first modded Saturn on which I started homebrew development on
 - Deunan, for providing the good ODEs. Those helped a lot during devlopment of Pseudo Saturn Kai.
 - Dezaemon DB (IGK), for keeping Dezaemon community active during all theses years
 - privateye for all the help around Pseudo Saturn Kai, Gamer's Cartridge and also for motivating me to make Pseudo Saturn Kai even better on every beta build :)
 - Stac for numerous beta testing help during Gamer's Cartridge early development stage
 - vbt, for all his contributions to Saturn homebrew community




The Future

I wish Saturn community a bright future with Satisfier and "all-in-one" red cartridges. The first project shall bring ability to export saves to SD card, also contribute to homebrew games development as also shall feature a nice disk image selection menu someday too. The second project shall bring a an affordable and convenient cartridge support for "all" Saturn games.

On my side, as I now have additional free time from the pause in Gamer's Cartridge manufacturing I would like to focus on the development of old frozen projects.
As usual, I won't communicate about any ETA, development cost nor even what it is about until things are working well enough : that will be less pressure on my side, and less frustration on your side


Good bye Goku.
(Until being resurrected ?)

Read more Gamer's Cartridge : Temporarily (?) Out of Stock

WIP : Saturn Save Data Manager, Pseudo Saturn Kai & USB dev cart, etc

Written by cafealpha 6 comments
Pseudo Saturn Kai  firmware development is currently paused in order to focus development into Save Data Manager application

Saturn Save Data Manager is an application in order to manage (copy, delete, etc) save data on your Saturn.
Basically, it is similar to the save data manager provided by Saturn BIOS, but also offers extra things, such as multiple selection of items to copy/delete, GPL license, and also save data import from various formats.

data/images/20160125_bupmngr_main_screen.tb.png
Saturn Save Data Manager main screen running on emulator.
It also works on real hardware, but I was too lazy
 to take a picture of my TV screen


At first, this Save Data Manager was made only in order to test Virtual Memory Cart behavior, so maybe user interface looks a little cheap, but I plan to improve this in the future according to first users eventual feedback


I really want to thank two people whose work helped to make this application :
 - Rockin-B : for his good old SaveGameManager application (yes, I copied the name of the application).
 - hitomi2500 : for his ss-save-parser application that really helped to understand Saturn Save Data structure. Also, I merged its Save Import related sources to my project, so that copying save data from dump file is possible directly on Saturn too


And, there's one screen that I need to show from ss-save-parser application : the "extract options screen". This is image is worth a thousand words when trying to explain how save data is arranged in Saturn backup RAM

data/images/20160125_save_data_structure.png
THE screen everyone need to see before
hacking Saturn saves data
Save data is arranged as header
(containing save name, comment, etc),
then blocks allocation table,
then data itself, with header data at
the beginning of each blocks.




Extra #1 : last month, I took a video of USB dev cart in action !
Nothing really spectacular however, but please watch it if you want to see what developing application with USB dev cart looks like
data/images/20151217_usb_dev_cart_demo.jpg
My dev laptop, a plain, not modded Saturn and USB dev cart,
ready for testing Saturn application on real hardware


Summary of the video (more details available in youtube page of the video) :
 - USB dev cart firmware update
 - CD-ROM unlock by using Pseudo Saturn hack
 - Upload and execution of program from PC to Saturn via USB, allowing testing of application performing CD-ROM access.


Extra #2 : with this USB dev cart, I could dump Shining Force Scenario 1 saves from Gosub .
You can find theses saves here.
data/images/20160112_gosub_sf3sc1_t.jpg
Backup cartridge with gosub's saves on it.
Thanks to Darius for providing me the cartridge

Gosub pushed each Shining Force character to their maximum competence on real hardware without using any cheat.
Really impressing work oO


Extra #3 : last month, my car reached its life achievement : 777777 kilometers :]
data/images/20160120_lucky_seven.tb.jpg
Wow. Many lucky seven. So beauty
Next challenge : 777 777 kilometers !


Read more WIP : Saturn Save Data Manager, Pseudo Saturn Kai & USB dev cart, etc

Shining Force 3 works !

Written by cafealpha 6 comments
Additional testing of my test cartridge showed that Shining Force scenario 3 was "working" well when using memory expander hack

By "working", I mean that game was working fine (no freeze, black screen whatever) while looking for save data on SD card.
I didn't verified if save data was consistent or not, this can be verified and eventually fixed later

data/images/20150915_sforce39.tb.png
Game is looking for SFORCE39 save data ?!

Logs show that game is looking for SFORCE31 save data, which is normal, but after that it is looking for SFORCE39 save data ?!?
I suppose this is some debug stuff that was left as-is, or maybe something for game beta testers ? Please let me know if you have more informations about this


It "works", but there's still a lot of code to write/cleanup/etc before release !
At first, I should add some "log to SD card" feature, this may be useful when we will enter beta testing stage

BTW, I'm looking for a name for my "SD card-based memory cart for Saturn" project.
The only requirement is that the name needs to be easy to remember. Suggestions are welcome


Edit (2016/02/12) : nearly 5 months after, everything works more or less so that I took a couple of videos of Pseudo Saturn Kai in action
data/images/20160212_xzibit_video.jpg
Video in video ?

More next week month

Edit (2016/03/16) : took longer than expected to add subtitles to the videos, but everything is finally ready. Thank you for your patience

data/images/20160316_shining_force_3_sd_memcart.jpg
Shining Force 3 Scenario 1 SD Memory Cart test
Game is accessing save data from cartridge's SD card. It works



data/images/20160316_shining_force_3_sd_memcart_makingof.jpg
Shining Force 3 Scenario 1 SD Memory Cart test (Making Of)
Same as above, with also log messages display on my dev laptop

Read more Shining Force 3 works !

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